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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Videos

I've just learned to embed videos into my blog from a site called YouTube. Very cool. Here is an interesting clip of a radiated tortoise chomping down on some greenery. I'm guessing this clip was captured by a zoo visitor. These tortoises, from Madagascar, are some of the most beautiful four-legged shelled creatures in the world;.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Here are some pictures from yesterday's short field trip to Glacier Ridge Metropark. The first shot shows what I believe to be an Autumn Meadowhawk. According to Larry Rosche in his Dragonflies of Northeast Ohio, the adults of this species fly in late summer and autumn. He has been sending out e-mails to his bug buddy e-mail group about his intent to find one of these guys in December, which I believe would be an Ohio record. Here is my shot from yesterday at Glacier Ridge. Also, here is my very much zoomed in attempt at a late November bullfrog. This is Ohio's largest frog species, and there is actually a proposal to designate this species as Ohio's official state frog. We saw five yesterday in and around the created wetlands at Glacier Ridge.

Tom

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Glacier Ridge Metropark



On this unseasonably warm afternoon, Megan and I trekked out to Glacier Ridge Metropark, near Dublin, Ohio, in northwestern Franklin County. The first time I heard about this park was from John Watts, Natural Resources Manager for the Columbus and Franklin County Metroparks system. I was just a student then in Oxford, and he came to our agriculture and ecology seminar class to tell of a wetland restoration project at one of his areas. This was Glacier Ridge. We arrived there today about 1:00 p.m., and it was very warm, at least 65. The park sits up high. The setting is former agricultural fields. Flat agricultural fields, surrounded by huge houses. We pulled into the driveway and noticed the gargantuan steel and wood observation tower, probably at least 2 stories high. Cool. It stood out like a beacon. The wetlands created had some open water areas, and these areas were surrounded by narrow leaved cattail. Not exactly the most diverse place, but these wetlands have only been around for 5 years or so. Right away I noticed something very cool. Some type of Meadowhawk dragonfly. These guys are fairly common even in the most disturbed wetlands, but seeing them 4 days before the start of December was very cool. Altogether we saw two individuals flying about the parking lot, landing on the asphalt walking path and the wooden benches, trying to warm up in the low, afternoon sun. I thought to myself, what other cool stuff would we see?

As we walked to the large restroom/deck area, I peered over the railing, across the 20 feet of water, to the line of cattails. On several cattails sat perched bullfrogs. I counted 4, Megan saw a fifth. Pretty cool to find these guys so late in the year, but since we have had almost a full week of warm temperatures combined with sunny skies, I suppose this was not all that surprising. We saw about 20-30 mallards fly overhead, a few decided to drop down and into a distant, shallow wetland. A biker on the trail noticed my binoculars, and asked us if we were birders as he pedaled by with his kids. After saying yes, he told me about some shots of a hawk he had taken, I will presume a red-tailed hawk, about 30 minutes earlier. It was eating the remains of a furry rabbit, I presume an eastern cottontail. Pretty cool. I've never seen a hawk eating anything, let alone a rabbit!

Megan and I headed back to the car. We saw three American Coots diving in the open water of the cattail wetland. Not a bad little walk.

Tom

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

301 Girard

I looked out the large picture window at our house here in Columbus today after work. I saw at least 50 house sparrows, actually a type of finch native to Europe. Two pairs of cardinals were also pecking through the seed laying on the street. A little later, a few doves also dropped on by. Not exactly your most interesting day here bird wise, but at least I looked. One thing to be thankful for, in this season of thanks, were the two great days of weather that just wrapped up this evening. As Jym Ganahl said this evening on Channel 4, It is rare to have two consecutive sunny days at this time of year. With the clear weather also comes the cold, and this morning was the first time that my co-workers and I noticed that the small educational wetland at work had completely frozen over. It was very cold last night.

On another note, you might have noticed the pictures of Megan's umbrella plant I posted a few days ago. The plant was covered with aphids. On Sunday, I brought the plant outside and set it in the front yard, and pulled out the garden house. I turned the pressure all the way up, and blasted a stream of water from the nozzle at the tips of the plant. I was hoping that the stream of water would jettison the little insects off the plant-- sure enough, it worked. So if you have aphids, consider blasting them off before turning to pesticides!

Tom

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Dark Autumn Evening

Tonight is a dark night at 301 Girard. Combined with some bad news on Megan's side of the family, things just seem to be darker than usual. It was raining when I took Megan to school this morning, and it was raining when i arrived home after work. A few new things today. I noticed some sparrows foraging for seed in the road. The guys I saw today seemed different from the white throated sparrows I posted photos of earlier. I should bring my Sibley guide home from work so I could identify them. Overall, it just hasn't been as "birdy" around our house. But I haven't been looking as much either. Next topic: Nuts. My mom gave Megan and I a large, unopened can of Planters mixed nuts that went uneaten during our last reception. I am partial to Brazil nuts, and I've exhausted most of them from the can. I'm also a huge fan of Wikipedia, so I went there to research what I was eating. Brazil nuts come from a large rainforest tree that is not cultivated. Isn't that interesting? I'm eating a product that someone has gathered from the rainforest in Brazil or Bolivia, loaded up in a truck, and somehow transported to the Planters factory where they mix them with gads of peanuts, and dump them in a big old can. Also in the can: Peanuts. The peanut is a short lived plant, and the flowers, once fertilized, are pushed down into the earth where the peanut enveloping pod forms. Pretty cool, I thought to myself. A plant that actually sows its own seeds. Macadamia nuts are also in this can. They are grown in groves in Australia. Pecans: come from a type of hickory tree native to North America. Just really cool neat facts I thought. Most people don't realize that in one can of nuts there are so many stories, and that those nuts have been assembled from around the world!

I can't believe that it is almost 9:00 p.m. Where has the day gone?

Tom

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Attacked!

So, we have had mice in our house, I'm not sure which species, but hopefully, we have gotten rid of these with a few well placed traps. However, our adventure continues.
We have an umbrella plant that Megan has raised for several years. We kept this potted houseplant outside on our front porch when we moved to 301 Girard. Since we have moved the plant inside to our living room for the winter, we noticed that it had been dropping its leaves. Today, I got a phone message from work, from Megan, saying that there were tiny little bugs all over the plant. I came home and examined the situation.

Here is what I found:

Here they are zoomed in:Turns out, these little guys were aphids, members of the insect order Hemiptera. They suck plant juices, and the leave a shiny waste product known as honeydew on the leaves (and floor) below the area they are sucking juices. They have several different life cycle body forms, and as you can see, they look very different from one another. Creepy! They are tiny, each being no more than a few milimeters long. I might try to hose them off, outside, this weekend. If that doesn't work, I may have to consult a few experts. The umbrella plant is quite nice and I like it. The point here is that you don't even have to leave your living room to learn about other creatues. Sometimes, they just find you.

Tom

Art

This is a natural history blog, and occasionally, I sit down to create my impressions of the natural world. Last winter, while I was at Megan's apartment and didn't have any of my stuff, I went out and bought some watercolor supplies, and over the course of a month, painted this painting. The reference photo hung on her wall. This scene depicts the view of Little Pond from Megan's parent's deck in Maine. This is the view in winter. It is hard to believe that only a few months ago Megan and I were paddling aroundthe pond and pulling smallmouth bass from its murky waters. Tom

New Blogger

I've switched to the new and improved blogger. We will see if it is truly an improvement over the last version. I can not say that I was overly impressed with the last product. I will give it some kudos however, as it was very easy to use.

The picture to the left is obnoxiously large and I will try to get a smaller, less distorted image soon.

Tom

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Do Squirrels Have Lips?

I have never noticed this before, but check out this photo I snapped of a gray squirrel chowing down on some bird seed in my street:



They sure do have interesting little strips of hair that really look like lips. I'm not sure of their function, but beware of a juicy lipped squirrel near you.

Today was a pretty interesting day, bird wise, at 301 Girard.

I had:

Cardinals..several
Junco 1
White crowned sparrow...at least two
2 Common Grackles
1 female downy woodpecker
Over 30 mourning doves
1 white breasted nuthatch
2-3 carolina chickadees
Robin
The ubiquitous house sparrow
Gray squirrels
1 red squirrel.

Here is the white throated sparrow. This is the first time I've seen them in the road feeding on Marvin's bird seed that he tosses out from his yard every day.

My shot of a common grackle: I had two, this one was OK, but the other one had a gimpy leg, and my bet is that he doesn't make it through the winter.

Finally, I decided to forget about taking photos of birds in my front yard at the end of my ultra-crappy street and head back to Kenny Park to try to get some photographs of deer. Well, about 30 seconds after entering the woods a young buck walked slowly towards me. I got of a few shots of absolutely nothing but blur. I found some cool wrens checking out the rotten crotch of a large silver maple, then I crazy black lab came racing down the trail, straight past me, and at the time, I thought he would be on the trail of the buck. Anyways.......A few hundred feet later I met eyes with the buck again, this time face to face. I started walking towards him and finally I saw him, his head locked into an upright stare. Wohhh was my first reaction, I turned on the camera, even though there wasn't enough light, I fired off a few shots. Here was the best. I'll get a better one next time! I'm sure this buck lives here in Kenny Park.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Blogging to Blog

Tonight, there just isn't much that crosses my mind in regard to natural history, the subject of this blog. Most of my activities today were in the human realm. I did see a few mallards, perhaps five or six, dabbling along the shore of our man-made pond at Fountain Square. Rose hips, the fruit of wild rose plants, are also common in the area. After seeing these tangy fruits as an ingredient in some tea, I once picked some from our fields at fountain square. I tried to eat a bit of their waxy flesh, but it seemed as if the seeds encased inside the red fruits had prickles on them, and I just remembering it being a very unpleasant experience. I'm not exactly sure what I was thinking that day. Anyways, rose hips are packed with vitamin C and antioxidants!

Tom

Monday, November 06, 2006

Erie Burn

Words to describe my feelings today after our prescribed burn at Erie Sand Barrens:

Itchy eyes

Smoke

Gray

Gray-out

Intense

Warm

Slow

Snap

Crackle

Pop

Hippety-Hop

Vole

Peanut butter and Jelly

Stop

Slow

Corn

Look up

Look down

Look around

Sore

Why?

Tom

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Fire @ ESB

Tomorrow, I'll be participating in my first prescribed burn. Ok., make that second. While at Miami U. for grad school, I helped out (which actually meant watched) with a small prairie grass burn. Tomorrow I'll be heading to Erie Sand Barrens State Nature Preserve in Erie County, not far from Sandusky Ohio. I'll be suiting up in my Nomex fire proof clothing, lacing up my yellow vibram soled rocky work boots, and beyond that I'm not really sure what to expect. We'll see and I'll describe the experience come tomorrow.

Today Megan and I went to Grandpa's Cheesebarn and Fin Feather Fur outfitters in Ashland. A few natural history items of note. One, there was a nice buck lying in the back of an old blue truck right in front of the outfitters. I thought of my brethren at the Division of Wildlife. Which makes me think, on our way up to Ashland from Columbus, we must have seen at least 10 deer that had been struck along I-71. Second, after our visit to Fin Feather & Fur, Megan spotted a wooly bear caterpillar "booking" across the street as we walked to the cheesebarn. Jim McCormac blogged on these guys a few days ago, and be on the lookout for one of these weather predictors in your backyard. They are really cool and remind me of being a little boy. Ok, they don't really predict the weather, but it is a pretty neat old myth.

Tom

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fall glow at Kenny Park

Living near a natural area, no matter how small, is truly a gem. All you have to do is spend time observing the creatures and plants in the area, and I guarantee that your natural history skills will improve. Want to be a naturalist? Don't spend time in the library, spend time in the woods. I used to fall prey to this mistake. And after being in the field with some of Ohio's best naturalists and biologists, I have learned immensely from them. And one of the most important lessons I've learned is to carry my binoculars, carry a hand lens, carry my notebook and write write write write! We all have different learning styles, but writing in the field makes me pay attention to what I'm looking at. Instead of identifying an animal to species, I'm more apt to notice how many birds are at the top of the tree, whether they are male or female, and I can even get a feeling to what they are doing. Are they calling? Gleaning for insects? Extracting seeds from box-elder samaras?

I'm not sure why all of this came together for me, but yesterday afternoon at Kenny Park, along the Olentangy River here in North Columbus, I really felt in tune with what was going around me.

The evening sky was aglow. The air was clear, crisp, and cold, but not cold enough that I was wearing gloves. The leaves had mostly fallen off the tall trees, and the black walnuts on the alluvial terraces are now like skeletons. The stately sycamores and silver maples were still struggling to shed their quickly drying, brown leaves. Since many of the green plants have turned brown and shriveled up, I have turned my attention to birds. It is amazing how well they can be seen when there aren't leaves on the trees (although the bush honeysuckle is green as it was in mid- June).

So what did I see?

1 Carolina chickadee, flitting about in the box elders. I think it was trying to eat the box elder seeds, still in their helicopter like samaras, and still attached to the branch tips. I'd like to see how long this source of food lasts through the winter.

2. Robins, calling frequently, flying around. I'm not sure what they were up to.

3. 2 Gray squirrels, one after the other, chasing each other across a fallen, rotten log.

4. Next, in my notebook, I note the constant din of traffic from state route 315, a four lane commuter highway, across the river and back over my right shoulder towards the west.

5. Next, I look over my right shoulder, and in a amur honeysuckle, I see a small grayish, round, short-billed bird. I note its gray head, light gray eye ring, yellowish wash on its primary flight feathers and rump. My first instinct? Some kind of straggling wood warbler that hasn't quite yet made it to the tropics. I just leafed through my barely touched Peterson "Warblers" field guide and I'm hopelessy stuck. The thing my bird most resembled was a resident of Florida. Oh Well. Hopefully I can snap a picture today.

6. A red shouldered hawk cried out from above and to the south. KeyYER KeyYER KeyYER KeyYER!

7. Above me, calling with a short but surprising strong alert from a small bird, possibly another warber? High up in the black walnut, jumping from branch to branch, I only glimpsed at his underside. I just looked at the "Warblers Guide" again, and they actually had a plate that showed the underside of many common species! All I noted though, from my time yesterday was that this birds tail was decidedly notched. Well, I'm not sure if all passerine's tails possess this quality, but all the warbler's illustrated did. Oh well...next time...better observation. More detail.

8. Next, the presence of the leaves, still going strong, as green as they were in June, catches my eye. These belong to the highly invasive amur honesuckle. The shrubs growing beneath the walnuts almost reach small tree size. They emanate from a single stump, quickly branching out like a water fountain. The shrubs are covered with the globose, red-juicy berries. Obviously, nothing is really interested in eating these! I'll keep an eye throughout the winter. The fact that the honeysuckle still possesses photosynthetic leaves leaves no doubt how it is able to out-compete native species. Spicebush the native woodland understory shrub that is absent from Kenny park has long lost its leaves by now.

9. A small single engine plane flies over, heading northwest, reminding me that I am in the city.

10. I walk down to the Olentangy. It is still high, and my usual fishing spots are flooded. The water has receded quite a bit from earlier in the week, and the muddy banks are littered with signs of wildlife. Deer, squirrel, dogs, other stuff that I can only guess....I should learn more about tracks. Anyways, the long shadows that the sun casts at this time really make the tracks "pop" right out of the mud.

11. Finally, I walk back up the bank to the terrace where the walnuts and honeysuckle dominate. I see a squirrel about 100 feet to the south, in a black walnut. It seems smallish. Could this be the phantom red squirrel that I've caught a few glimpses of? I put my binoculars on it, and sure enough, I think it was. This guy had a snow white belly and a grayish red topside, separated by a thin black line of hair. And then he made the tell tale rattle of the red squirrel. It is loud and obnoxious. Hard to believe that such a sound comes out of the little guy.

Anyways, it is getting colder, my hands are freezing, and after seeing a single crow alight on top of a walnut, I decide it is time to head back to 301 Girard. Megan and I have a Bluejackets game to go to!

Tom